In the last 5 years we have served more than 1,000 very deserving young women in need through our partnerships with more than 20 organizations. We have provided 30 + educational events in packed auditoriums, churches, and small classrooms on self-compassion, job preparedness, effective communication, social media safety, goal setting, and positive body image. We have a thriving downtown Lakeland Upscale Thrift Boutique. We have had hundreds of volunteers which continues to be one of the most important elements of fulfilling our missional objectives. And now we have a second Top Buttons Boutique servicing the community of Bartow.
I can't begin to tell you how much I adore working with young people. Maybe it's because they make me feel young, maybe it's because of my own traumatic teenage years or maybe it's because it truly is my calling. With all of that said, I thought by now I would grow out of it but that's just not the case. The summer of 2012, I spent an especially large amount of time with the Lord praying and seeking Him for guidance. I also discussed (talked endlessly) with my other half (Brent Powers) about how I could do what I feel so passionate about without taking away from my family. God has been and will continue to be my everything, my husband has been by my side through it all offering great wisdom, and my three daughters + one son have reminded me to stay focused on what Top Buttons stands for.
Out of a heart that longed to encourage young women to know their worth, to respect their bodies, their minds, their talents, and to seek their God-given purpose, I began to outline what the mission of this organization would be. Modesty is so much more than just wearing layers of clothes. Working with young women to build them up, encourage them in their gifts, and to know how to present themselves to the world without compromise has been the essence of our operations from day one.
Going back to 2009, I first met Anastasia Jones while attending a conference. I was pregnant with baby #3, sitting on the front row during a session and having a hot flash. She stood much taller than me, most do ;), and greeted me as I walked out the back conference room door feeling as if I was going to pass out. I'm sure seeing my pale and sweaty face, plus 9 month pregnant belly, likely concerned her. She offered me a hair tie and showed me where the bathroom was. That was it. We didn't speak again until 2012.
When the concept of Top Buttons started developing, the next step was to hopefully connect with people who would share the vision. I filled out a form on the Southeastern University website so that students looking for internships might learn of Top Buttons and be interested in helping get it moving. As I searched the database of potential matches, I saw her name. It struck me as odd that I immediately recalled our meeting and her full name. Miss Anastasia Jones. I read her resume and called her. I thought for sure she wouldn't remember me. After a couple minutes on the phone, we planned to meet up and talk about what her role would be. I was shocked that she remembered our funny first meeting and that she wanted to be a part of Top Buttons. She said "I don't know that I am fashionable, but I love the concept and would love to be a part." (...and Anastasia is absolutely stunning from the inside out!) At our meet up, she brought a couple more very special and talented young women and so began the journey of becoming a unique nonprofit with our growing Top Buttons Team.
Knowing that young women are online, we began working on our online website and fashion blog. At the time, there didn't seem to be an online fashion/positive body image magazine filtered with modesty in mind. We had some amazing high schoolers who joined the team and they helped name our organization.
As we launched our online platform, we quickly recognized the needs young girls have right here in our local community. We can show them and try to inspire young people to raise the standard in their lives, but many simply don't have the resources to make changes even if they want to. As we sought to educate and equip, we became an official 501c3 tax exempt org on 12/12/12.
The online platform grew with interesting and consistent modest fashion content. Articles were posted regularly and the local equipping began.
We had our first shopping spree with a young woman from the Dream Center. At that time Top Buttons didn't have clothing donations so Anastasia took her shopping at Marshalls. It was a precious experience for her and us. After that we began collecting clothing. Not junk clothing, but nice clothing for our girls to choose from.
My vehicle is always a thrift store on wheels, but in the spring of 2013, it was over the top. People began to understand the need we were meeting and wanted to help us get the girls what they needed. Taking large amounts of thrift store clothing to organizations serving at risk girls was not easy. But we didn't have a space of our own yet and we needed to build relationships with the organizations we had a heart to serve. The educational component began to develop as we were asked to come and educate on positive body image, modesty, and how to dress professionally at local orgs, churches, and schools.
We had our first ever Thrift Clothing Sale at a residence in downtown Lakeland called a SWAP AND SHOP.
We wrote content, created a consistent online publication, produced videos, did shopping sprees for those in need, and had many dreaming sessions on what Top Buttons would become.
In the fall of 2013, we were given a special opportunity to spend two days with Mercy Ministries in Nashville providing confidence building educational sessions and fashion presentations.
Top Buttons continued to collect clothing from the community and take it to organizations while doing our educational sessions on site.
The culture that we live in is full of cameras, photography, and an image focused mentality. We loved being able to connect and inspire young women to have fun with photoshoots but do it for a cause bigger than themselves. We pull in girls of all economic backgrounds to be a part of and to gain from our online fashion resources.
We planned our first large scale clothing boutique session with 40 young women from the enrolled organizations we partner with. Volunteer hair, clothing and makeup stylists joined us to serve for our first full day wardrobe and beauty makeover event at the Lake Mirror Bell Tower.
We are funded through corporate sponsorships, financial donations, grants and also through our Upscale Thrift Boutiques. We had our first official fundraiser three years after starting in 2015 at the Sorosis Building. A room full of women who were interested in our mission began supporting our cause. Following the event we obtained our first brick and mortar location. Now the girls could come to us for our styling and wardrobe makeover program services.
The charitable and educational services we offer were given a name, "The Wearing Confidence Program." Every month we are able to serve more than 30 at risk young women through this program.
Our Top Buttons Board of Directors have been championing the cause since the beginning. They have been so generous, creative and inspirational while planning events and providing counsel for our development as a new nonprofit in a community full of amazing nonprofits.
Planning Boutique and Educational sessions were in full swing in 2016 as we had a fun and solid team working to complete missional objectives with excellence.
We took over the Harrison School of the Arts Auditorium for an All Day Building Up Girls Educational Event in the fall of 2016. We packed out the room with more than 120 attendees from local enrolled programs who work with at risk girls.
Women seemed to love to be a part of what we were doing through donating clothing and shopping on the days we were open to the public. Plus young women we serve wanted to come back and bring their families to shop high-end clothing at a discount.
It was a huge risk, but we took it. After pursuing the downtown lakeland space for almost a year, we were able to take the steps needed to move forward on leasing the space. Now that we have been in this downtown space almost a full year, it seems like it was meant for us. We are open 5 days a week for public shopping which is under our 501c3 umbrella helping to fund our full-time charitable efforts.
Fun Fact: Did you know our downtown Lakeland space was actually the first movie theatre in Lakeland playing silent movies in the 1930s and 40s? The space is eclectic and very cool. We absolutely love it and its historical significance to our city.
We are now able to provide such a precious experience for our girls. They receive styling services, hair tips and touch ups in the Strand Salon next door, free makeup, and new wardrobes of proper fitting attire. Additionally we can teach our educational sessions in a venue just on the other side of us in the Sommer Building. The businesses on our block have been extremely supportive in ways we couldn't have imagined!
I think for many, the idea of starting a nonprofit seems like a nice year-end goal and another thing to add to a "to do" list. Take something you are passionate about and go for it. However interesting and exciting it may sound, the amount of work involved with staying compliant, having excellence with the administration, and raising funds is all extremely time consuming. It is especially difficult when you do not have a large organization providing support to get off the ground. Now we have had many come alongside and support us, but fundraising is not fun nor is it easy. The main ingredient for staying afloat is hard work and persistence.
Anyone who runs a small business knows that as you grow it is the behind the scenes administration that has to be in order for the growth to be sustained and to thrive. Passion and creativity can only get you so far if the admin is a mess. Over the years of raising awareness, tweaking the services, and obtaining the right resources so we may give the right resources, we have had so many talented and amazing people who have added great value to Top Buttons. Several have been with Top Buttons since it was a concept and many still donate clothing and money even if they are not able to be directly involved anymore. Currently we have more than 40 volunteers, several volunteer team members, and four paid staff who continue to work more than they are supposed to. At our last team meeting, we all grabbed our Mitchell's Coffee, opened up our calendars and laptops, and began discussing the overlapping of events happening in Bartow and Lakeland. We have such an overqualified, practical, yet positive team. What you see happening is a product of MANY people volunteering their time to build up young women in our community.
In November we opened up our second Upscale Thrift Boutique in the beautiful downtown Bartow Stuart Building. In Bartow the Jean O'Dell Learning Center, Youth Villas, and Heartland for Children are just a few of the organizations enrolled with us who are already using this location for Wearing Confidence Program services.
I know what it's like to really let people down. And I know what it's like to ultimately let myself down. And when we don't value ourselves, whether it's for a moment or a decade, that can be catastrophic as we make poor choices which can have life-long effects. We have to first believe that we were IN FACT created with a purpose by God, whether we are treated that way by those around us or not. I don't say this to end on a negative note. I say it because I know what it means to desperately need the healing grace of a Heavenly Father who is the only one who has the power to save and create real change. I also know what if feels like to need support and people who will advocate for you. Through Christ, collaborating together, challenging with truth, and loving fiercely, we can help young people turn their lives around. Top Buttons may be new, but we have made it to the 5 year mark and look to continue many years more with your continued encouragement and support.